Special to the Sun / Stephen Sylvanie
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 | 10:51 p.m.
What began as a best-of-five series between the Las Vegas Wranglers and the Utah Grizzlies is now a best-of-three series.
Wednesday night at the Orleans Arena, Utah evened the National Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece with a 4-1 victory.
“I wouldn’t say that our effort wasn’t there tonight,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “But our execution definitely wasn’t. We got away from what we do to be successful and that’s being as detailed as possible.”
Three unanswered Grizzlies goals propelled a bounce-back game out of goaltender Mikko Koskinen, who stopped 33 of the Wranglers’ 34 shots.
“If you get into a shooting game with that much skill, you’re not going to come out on top,” said Mougenel, noting Utah’s ability to create traffic in front of Las Vegas goalie Jimmy Spratt.
That, combined with the lack of traffic in front of Koskinen, contributed to the series split that Utah will take home for the weekend.
A short-handed goal by Utah’s James Sixsmith late in the first period proved to be the deciding goal.
As the Wranglers began a two-minute power play after a roughing call to Peter Vandermeer, Sixsmith took possession of the puck near center ice and found himself one-on-one with Spratt.
Faking a shot, Sixsmith snuck a backhand between Spratt’s pads for Utah’s first lead of the game at the 14:24 mark of the first period.
“It’s frustrating when you go up 1-0 and have a chance to take a stranglehold on the series,” left-winger Ned Lukacevic said. “But we knew it was going to be a tough series and thus far it has been.”
A.J. Perry and Tim Crowder each afforded the Grizzlies insurance in the third period, scoring to put the game out of reach.
Perry scored with just under four minutes played in the period, jamming the puck into the net from beside Spratt, and Crowder notched an empty-net goal from just past the blue line with 1:51 remaining.
After the game, Lukacevic, who recorded nine of Las Vegas’ 34 shots, optimistically looked ahead to the weekend.
“We know we have a team in here that can win on the road,” he said. “We have a team that is built for the playoffs and we’re excited for the challenge.”
The scene now shifts to the E-Center in West Valley City, Utah, for the remainder of the series, where the Wranglers will need to take two out of three to keep their season alive.
“You’re going to have to win on the road,” Mougenel said. “We’ll let this one sting a little bit and then get in the right frame of mind. We didn’t think we’d go through the playoffs 16-0.”
Playing in Utah hasn’t been friendly to the Wranglers, who have lost six out of seven games on the road, going 1-5-1 at the E-Center, but their last contest in Utah was back in February.
“That means nothing to me,” Mougenel said. “I don’t think about that, it’s the regular season. We’re not the same team we were in the regular season and neither are they. It’s a new season, we’re 0-0 there and we’ll approach it like that.”
Three stars: 1. Utah’s Mikko Koskinen (33 saves); 2. Utah’s James Sixsmith (Game-winning goal); 3. Kyle Hagel (Goal)
Miller’s month: Adam Miller was named ECHL Player of the Month on Wednesday, tallying 28 points in March. The center scored 12 goals, added 16 assists and recorded a point in 14 consecutive games, stretching deep into the month.
Hot Hagel: The Wranglers forward opened Game 2’s scoring with his third goal of the series and recorded four shots in the loss. Playing between Las Vegas and AHL San Antonio, Hagel recorded seven goals in the regular season.
Up next: Game 3 at Utah, on Saturday night at 6:05 p.m.
Final word: “It’s just one battle,” Mougenel said. “It isn’t the end of the war.”